Ministry is a challenge. A beautiful and sanctifying challenge, but a challenge nonetheless.
This fact is emphasized, and may even be caused in part by the fact that instead of peddling widgets or reaching deadlines, we work for and serve people. Messy, sticky, often unpredictable human persons who are as unique and individualized as the snowflakes that covered my home and parish all winter long. We can state trends and patterns about teens in the most general and terms possible, but unlike a chair or a car that is an exact clone of the one made before, the next teen to walk through your door is completely different than the one that just walked out.
And this is good thing! It’s what allows our programs to shift and grow. It’s what allows us to be surprised. It’s what calls us out of ourselves and forces us to invest time and energy and emotion into the lives of these unpredictable, funny, frustrating, unique persons that we call our teens.
As St Paul says:
“With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
What Drives You?
Faced with this massive and overwhelming truth, I have to ask myself “What am I in this for?”
I think it’s easy to say I’m in it for the teens or that I’m in it because I feel called. After all, those are abstract motivations pointed to no particular end. It’s also easy to say that I’m here for conversions or that I’m here to see souls to Jesus, because those are the moments that make us feel good and accomplished. However, if we’re just here for conversions, as if “winning a soul for Christ” is like putting a tally mark on a giant scoreboard, I would say that we’re doing it for noble, but incomplete reasons.
The real, awe-inspiring, and terrifying reason that we’re called to ministry is that we are meant to help accomplish the work of salvation. Now, this may seem like I’m splitting hairs, as if conversion is somehow contrary to the work of God. That’s not what I’m saying at all. What I am saying is that the work of salvation is not simply reaping the fruit.
It’s Not All on You
Has it occurred to you that your place in your current ministry may be to help prepare for one who is to come after you? As John did for Jesus and as the prophets did for the apostles, maybe our work is not to harvest, but to prepare.
This isn’t meant to discourage. On the contrary, find hope and encouragement that it’s not all on you!
For those who feel trapped in a ministry with low response or low attendance, thank God for the opportunity to help clear the field that seeds may be planted. For those who are surrounded by teens who are hungry for the faith, thank God for those who came before you to prepare the way for Christ to change their lives.
As a single family of faith, we are not in ministry for personal rewards or the opportunity to single-handedly enact conversion in the teens we serve. There is just as much work for the person preparing the harvest as there is for the one harvesting. We need to take a step back and pray for the eyes that we may see all the good work that is being done, and not just for our own.
There is no such thing as a private suffering in the Church, and there is no such thing as a private victory. Let’s ask God for the faith to believe that he is working through our humble service, even when we can’t see it. Let’s ask the angels to protect us from the temptation of believing that it’s all up to us. Most of all, we need to pray for everyone involved in ministry that no matter the time or place we inhabit, that we may work diligently that the work of heaven may be accomplished here on Earth.